In the fall of 2014 when Running Strong for American Youth® was soliciting applications for the inaugural class of Dreamstarters, among the many we received was one from 24-year-old second-year dental student Cristin Haase.
Cristin (Cheyenne River Sioux) had successfully maneuvered through the complex and extremely challenging process of applying to dental school without much assistance from others. Although her family and friends were supportive of her dream to become one of the very few Native American dentists in the United States, there was not much they could do in the way of offering practical advice.
With her dream to be accepted to the A.T. Still University (ATSU) Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ASDOH) realized, and her dream of becoming a dentist soon to become a reality, Cristin formulated yet another dream: to help other Native youth with aspirations of becoming dentists navigate the daunting process of applying to dental school.
“Becoming a dentist has been my dream since high school, when the death of my older sister prompted me to want to do more, more than anyone expected from me,” she told us in her Dreamstarter® application.
While a student at Fort Lewis College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in biology in 2013, she devoted her time to getting high scores in prerequisite courses for dental school including physics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and microbiology.
In dental school she was involved in extracurricular activities including devoting her time to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) and the Society of American Indian Dentists (SAID), student chapter. She served as a committee chair with the ASDOH-ASDA chapter and served as president for the SAID student chapter.
“There are many barriers for American Indian students who wish to enter healthcare,” she told us. “One of the biggest barriers is the grueling application process to get into medical and dental programs. What I wish to do with this [$10,000 Dreamstarter®] grant, is to implement a program to help high school and pre-dental undergraduate students bridge the gap between where they are now and getting accepted into dental school.
“The application process for dental school is long and involves multiple steps that are confusing,” she explained. “Most applicants apply multiple times, each year of applying costing thousands of dollars.
“I want to make sure promising American Indian students are prepared for an equal shot at acceptance the first time they apply. I believe with proper guidance and mentoring from American Indian dental students these barriers can be identified and eliminated.”
Upon her acceptance into the inaugural cohort of Dreamstarters, Cristin immediately began work on developing her Pre-Dental Admission Workshop (PAW) to be held at the ASDOH with the assistance of her mentor George Blue Spruce Jr., DDS, MPH, Assistant Dean of American Indian Affairs at ASDOH.
“The program will entail bringing American Indian youth and young adults to campus and pairing them with American Indian dental student mentors where they were provided information on the Dental Admission Test, prerequisite courses they will need to complete, and the dental school application process,” she said.
Other aspects of the PAW could include hands-on simulations of dental procedures, mock admission interviews, shadowing dentists, and “life in the day of a dental student” events. Additionally, mentees would be given an opportunity to become part of a network of support for future and current American Indian dental students.
Cristin’s PAW was so successful in its very first year, that even after her one-year Dreamstarter® grant program expired, the program is continuing at ASDOH.
In July, 2018 Cristin was featured in an article published in the ATSU iConnect News entitled “Dream maker” reporting that when she graduated from ATSU-ASDOH in 2017 she became one of fewer than 300 American Indian dentists serving a population of 5.2 million.
“As a tribal member, Dr. Haase is committed to serving American Indian communities,” the article stated. “She knew from a young age she wanted to be a dentist. She is also keenly aware of the challenges American Indians face in accessing oral healthcare.”
Cristin, now Dr. Haase to us, received a scholarship to ATSU-ASDOH from the Indian Health Service on the condition that she would practice in a tribal community when she graduated, and she now works as a general dentist at a tribal health facility in Chiloquin, Oregon, serving the Klamath Tribes.
“Dr. Haase is confident the solution to the oral health crisis in American Indian communities a greater number of American Indian dentists,” the article reported. “Underrepresented minorities who become healthcare providers are more likely to work in underserved communities that reflect their own racial and ethnic background. In fact, underrepresented minority status is the strongest predictor that a healthcare professional will work with underserved populations.
While that is certainly true with Dr. Haase, and what she has accomplished for herself and dozens of other Native youth and young adults with their own dreams of becoming dentists is indeed commendable, her reach has extended far beyond that through our partnership with her.
It is because of Dr. Haase that we became acutely aware of the need for proper dental care for Native Americans, particularly children who face a much higher percentage of cavities and other oral health issues than American children as a whole nationwide.
Compounding the problem of their high consumption of sugary sodas and juices is the fact that many families cannot afford toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss for their children.
With the knowledge we gained from Dr. Haase we initiated our SmileStrong program in 2015, providing thousands of Native children with SmileStrong dental kits that each contain the “tools for teeth” they need – child-size toothbrushes, a six-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss picks. This enables them to develop proper oral hygiene habits that will allow them to keep “smiling strong” for their entire lives.
In addition, through our SmileStrong program we have partnered with Delta Dental of South Dakota which works with our affiliate the Oyate Teca Project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and our partner the Cheyenne River Youth Project on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. Delta Dental of South Dakota offers screenings for children and youth identifying cavities and other oral health issues they may have.
Each child, and in many cases their siblings who may not have been able to attend the screenings, receives a SmileStrong kit after getting their teeth checked.
And for that, we all owe our deep expression of gratitude to “our Dreamstarter” Dr. Cristin Haase.
Read more about Dr. Haase’s Dreamstarter® progress along the way to the realization of her dreams here.
Read the ATSU-ASDOH article here.